The days leading to Troy University’s Pro Day on March 2 at Veterans Memorial Stadium offered sleepless nights for defensive lineman Billy Dobbs.
And the late hours of March 1 proved the worst night as he attempted to fall asleep at 10 p.m.
“Six hours of tossing and turning, waking up every hour on the hour,” Dobbs said with a chuckle during a telephone interview. “I took that weekend to get rested. I was rested, but just the night before it was hard to sleep.”
He may have felt a little fatigued by the time he eventually rolled out of bed before the crack of the dawn.
But the adrenaline kicked in once Dobbs saw representatives from the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks, San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, St. Louis Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins.
The Pro Day workout, which included Troy wide receiver Chandler Worthy and offensive lineman Terrence Jones, among others, carried significance for Dobbs given his lack of exposure to NFL personnel after not receiving an invite to a postseason college all-star game or the NFL Scouting Combine.
“Time to make it happen,” Dobbs said he told himself after seeing the assembled scouts. “I was there now. Time to make it happen, don’t hold anything back. This is your one shot; let’s make it happen.”
Dobbs, who said he stayed in the weight room in the weeks leading to his Pro Day, measured in at 6-foot-4, with 34.6-inch arms, an 82-inch wingspan and 9 ½-inch hands. He ran an unofficial 5.1 40-yard dash, and recorded a 9-foot-3 broad jump and 31-inch vertical jump.
The extra work in the weight room paid off. Dobbs bench pressed 225 pounds 23 times and weighed in at 285 pounds, which represented an increase of 15 pounds from his college playing weight of 270.
He said adding weight to his frame was necessary because he knew he would undergo defensive tackle and defensive end drills for the scouts.
Dobbs said he wasn’t nervous at his Pro Day, instead he said excitement took over because he had the opportunity to show his abilities in individual and position drills.
And the scouts apparently enjoyed what they saw.
“I got some real good feedback,” Dobbs said. “They like my size, my length. I did my broads and vertical jumps, they liked it. They thought they were athletic jumps, good movement on cone drills.”
Dobbs didn’t allow the atmosphere to overtake his emotions because he focused on producing results.
But that didn’t mean he couldn’t have fun.
“It felt great,” Dobbs said. “It was great energy, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I enjoyed every bit of it.”
Dobbs became a well-traveled man to chase NFL dreams.
The journey began in his hometown of Newark, N.J., and cut a path through a redshirt season at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan. (2010), Nassau Community College in Garden City, N. Y. (2011-12), before settling in Troy, Ala., the past two years.
Dobbs put in the hard work throughout the combined 3,832.3-mile trek and realized early he had a realistic shot at the professional level.
“I knew it was attainable my first year at Butler,” Dobbs said. “I saw the competition I was going up against and I knew if I worked hard, worked harder than some of the other people, then one day I’d get there. I had the size, the athleticism. That’s what happened.”
Dobbs honed his skills as a defensive end at Nassau Community College, appearing in 16 games with 75 total tackles (41 solo), 7 ½ sacks and three fumble recoveries.
His two-year production caught the attention of larger schools, and the offers soon arrived.
“Troy, Miami, Middle Tennessee, a bunch of Sun Belt teams,” Dobbs said. “I was going to sign with Miami, but due to school, they couldn’t take some of my classes.”
The first year for Dobbs at Troy was an adjustment period to the school’s 4-3 base defense, and Dobbs made the most of his action at defense end with nine tackles (four solo) and 1 ½ sacks in seven games.
Former Troy defensive line coach Randy Butler said during a telephone interview the Trojans decided during the 2014 offseason to move Dobbs from defensive end to nose tackle, a position Dobbs never played before.
“He was always out there on the edge in a 5-technique or 6-technique,” Butler said. “When you go inside, you got about five different bodies that can come at you at one time and that’s a tough deal when you move outside to inside.”
Dobbs quickly adapted and made an impact his senior year, appearing in 12 games and totaling 50 tackles (22 solo) and a ½ sack.
His willingness to learn a new position and perform under fire impressed the coaching staff.
“He handled it like a champion,” Butler said. “Never complained, wanted to learn, was always attentive, wanted to stay late and learn extra. I was so proud of him.”
Nevertheless, Dobbs didn’t receive an invite to a college all-star game at the conclusion of the 2014 season and he said it caused disappointment and even some frustration.
Butler points out Troy’s 3-9 record in 2014 after a 6-6 record in 2013 as a primary factor why scouts may not have paid attention to Dobbs.
The dismal 2014 season also prompted Troy to go a different direction with a new coaching staff.
“We weren’t very good, that’s the main thing,” Butler explained. “You can have a chip on your shoulder, but when you’re not very good defensively, a lot of people aren’t going to notice you.”
Still, being overlooked only provided Dobbs fuel to show doubters he should be considered for the NFL.
“They may think I’m not ready,” Dobbs said. “I feel like I can prove to anyone I can play at that level.”
Troy University has quietly developed into a defensive lineman factory, producing the likes of DeMarcus Ware, Osi Umenyiora, Steve McLendon, Jonathan Massaquoi, Mario Addison and Cameron Sheffield, who was a fifth-round pick of the Chiefs in 2010, among others.
The school’s recent success with NFL-caliber defensive linemen is a source of pride for Butler.
“From 2007 to this year – if you count Billy and I think you can – we will have had 10 defensive linemen to either be drafted or sign in the NFL,” Butler said. “And that’s just defensive linemen. You can go around the country anywhere from 2007 to 2014 and you say you have 10 defensive linemen in the NFL, that’s pretty good company.”
Dobbs’ path, however, won’t be easy, according to Eric Galko, owner and director of OptimumScouting.com.
While it remains to be seen how Dobbs projects in the NFL, either at defensive tackle in a 4-3 base defense or a defensive end in a 3-4, Galko believes the latter is the best fit.
“He’s probably going to be an undrafted guy,” Galko said in a telephone interview. “But the question is can he stick with a 5-technique team. He has value as a practice squad guy early on to develop as a third-down specialist.”
Galko, who also contributes as a draft analyst for the Sporting News, said Dobbs’ height, length, versatility and ability to get in the backfield are attributes to appreciate.
“His best skillset is as an athletic guy,” Galko said. “He can get up the field, kind of take advantage of some two-on-one situations, but certainly a guy you’re going to bank on to win a one-on-one situation. I don’t think adding any more bulk is going to make a difference for his draft value.”
“In a 3-4, he’d have to be a 5-technique, although, he handled himself pretty well at nose (tackle) this year,” Butler said of Dobbs. “We were a 4-3 and jumped to a 3-4 maybe 15 snaps. I coached 3-4 and 4-3. He’s an inside guy in a 4-3 and a 5-technique in a 3-4 because he’s got such length, long arms and such natural strength.’”
For his part, Dobbs said he has no opinion on what system fits him best in the NFL based on his experiences throughout a college career that went through two junior colleges and Troy.
“It doesn’t matter,” Dobbs said. “I played both. That will be on the coach.”
The other end of the telephone line is momentarily quiet as Dobbs appears to collect his thoughts before answering what it would be like to make the NFL.
His well-traveled path is part of the response.
“A dream come true,” Dobbs said after the brief pause. “It’s something I worked hard for a big part of my life. Just to get there at that stage is a blessing.”
Dobbs said he has relied on his mother, two brothers and grandparents, all of whom Dobbs said have offered spiritual and family encouragement since he left Newark, N.J., to fulfill a goal.
His former defensive line coach believes Dobbs will have the coveted opportunity based on conversations with NFL scouts and team player personnel.
“I know he’s going to get a chance because I talked to a couple of people last week with his workouts,” Butler said. “He’s going to get a chance. That’s all you can ask for when you’re coming out of college.”
Butler, of course, has a high level of bias when it comes to the subject of Dobbs, and apparently for good reason.
Dobbs left a lasting impression on Butler, a coaching veteran of 35 years, for his willingness to put aside individual needs and move to nose tackle because the team needed him.
Butler also appreciates Dobbs’ dedication to improve his craft.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Butler said. “I’ve put a bunch of guys in the NFL and he’s one of my all-time favorites because just what he had to overcome. He had to make his grades in junior college; he had to come from New Jersey to Alabama; he had to overcome moving from defensive end to inside; and the social aspects of it from a New Jersey kid to South Alabama. I really hope he gets his shot and makes the best of it, and I know he will.”
Dobbs will remain at Troy to continue working out before the draft, and the interest level from NFL teams is sure to rise in the coming weeks.
While Dobbs wouldn’t disclose team names, he said some organizations have already expressed interest in bringing him in for predraft visits and he is now waiting to hear back from them.
Dobbs looks back at the past few years with fondness and said he has no regrets with the winding path he took to knock on the door of the NFL. He enjoyed his time at Troy and in his mind the arrival was part of an unfinished journey.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I pray before I go into any situation. It happened because it was supposed to happen.”
Dobbs isn’t naïve when it comes to the NFL Draft and he realizes he may not hear his name during the three-day event.
But he is also mentally prepared if he goes undrafted, and that would only serve as additional motivation to what he already carries from being overlooked since the end of his college career.
“Just add some more fuel to the chip that’s on my shoulder,” Dobbs said. “I’ll just know I have to work even harder than they’re working.”